Current Events in August 2018

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    Noble Grill recalls Premium brand Pork Tenderloin Supreme Pepper

    The product contains mustard, an allergen not declared on the label

    Les Viandes du Breton is recalling Noble Grill Premium brand Pork Tenderloin Supreme Pepper.

    The product contains mustard, an allergen not declared on the label.

    No reported reactions associated with the consumption of this product have been reported.

    Noble Grill Premium, sold in Quebec, Canada, is being recalled:

    Common NameSizeUPCAdditional Info
    Pork Tenderloin Supreme PepperApprox. 400 gVariableBest Before
    18AU28

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled product and have an allergy to mustard should not consume the recalled product, but discard it or return it to the store where purchased.

    Consumers with questions may call Julie Lamontagne at (418) 551-1328.

    Les Viandes du Breton is recalling Noble Grill Premium brand Pork Tenderloin Supreme Pepper.The product contains mustard, an allergen not declared on t...

    Locals and activists fight to stop a Louisiana pipeline that the operator insists most people want

    The Bayou Bridge pipeline is partially financed by the same company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline

    Protesters in Louisiana are locking themselves to construction equipment and sitting in trees in a last-ditch effort to stop the construction of a new crude oil pipeline.

    The Bayou Bridge pipeline, a 163-mile project meant to link Texas refineries to Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, is nearly complete, despite numerous open legal challenges being waged against it in court.

    The protest camp, a small, decentralized group calling themselves, “L'eau est la vie” (French for “water is life,”) has shared footage online that documents how activists are kayaking through swamps to block equipment, among other drastic steps to stall construction.

    "I think the direct actions are holding the place” for the pending lawsuits, says Cherri Foytlin, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network and the protest camp’s Indigenous Women’s Council.

    The L’eau est la vie group, a collection of environmentalists from indigenous, black, and rural white communities, says that its efforts have “successfully shut down construction” of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, if only temporarily.

    On Thursday, L’eau est la vie announced that three protesters kayaking through a swamp near construction were “abducted” by private security contractors and later arrested by the Iberville Sheriff’s Department, which has yet to return a message left by ConsumerAffairs. And last week, the group said that an armed worker threatened that someone could get “hurt” if protests continued.

    Cold drinks and support

    Foytlin, the organizer, tells ConsumerAffairs that the instances are relatively isolated. She describes the majority of workers as either apathetic or quietly supportive of the cause.

    "There's been occasions where the workers will bring us something to drink. They don't hate us as much as the companies would like people to think,” says Foytlin, who is based in Rayne, Louisiana and has family who works in the oil industry.

    The industry has such a strong hold on the community, she says, that even workers who would otherwise be opposed to construction don’t have much of a choice if they want to put food on the table.

    Annual meeting ends in arrests

    The camp dates back to April of last year, and Foytlin counts a total of 80 civil disobedience-style “actions” that protesters have taken. Direct actions to physically block the pipeline’s construction began in July, according to Unicorn Riot, a nonprofit news outlet that sent its reporters to the protest encampments.

    Several weeks later, the oil and gas pipeline magante Energy Transfer Partners acknowledged that tree-sitters were staging protests in the pipeline's path. “We have notified local law enforcement [that] anyone in a tree sit is trespassing on our right-of-way,” the company said.

    When Foytlin talked to ConsumerAffairs on Wednesday, she was on her way to bail a protester out of jail who, along with others, had crashed the annual American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting in New Orleans.

    ALEC, a nonprofit backed by corporations in the energy sector and other industries, has a well-documented history of drafting legislation to suit members’ business interests.

    For pipeline protesters, the ALEC meeting in New Orleans this week was especially personal. In Louisiana, a recent report by the non-profit Common Cause says that ALEC ghost-wrote a new state law that criminalizes oil and gas pipeline protests.

    Under HB 727, people in Louisiana accused of “conspiring” to trespass on a pipeline easement or damaging construction equipment in the easement now face anywhere from one to 20 years behind bars if they are prosecuted. The law went into effect just last week.

    The L'eau est la vie camp has since adjusted their strategies to avoid violating the new legislation, Foytlin says. In one parish, a single tree-sitter has picked a location that is outside of the pipeline easement. However, should workers continue cutting other trees in the path, the tree-sitter is close enough that he could be killed, Foytlin says.

    Ties to DAPL

    The pipeline project is owned 60 percent by Energy Transfer Partners, the same company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Phillips 66 owns the other 40 percent.

    Through a page called Bayou Bridge Pipeline Facts, the firms defend their project and distance themselves from the controversial project in the midwest. They claim in one post that the Bayou Bridge pipeline “bears no relation to the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

    The Bayou Bridge website points to a poll conducted by Louisiana’s local oil and gas association, claiming that 74 percent of people in the state support new oil pipeline projects.

    At the same time, the firms have also released numerous statements to defend their project against “what is falsely being said by those who oppose the project.”

    “If there are persons currently in any of the tree sits, we encourage them to come down and leave the area,” the firms said in July.

    How another pipeline came to "Cancer Alley"

    The United States Army Corps of Engineers ruled in December that the project would have “no significant impact" on the local environment. The pipeline also got the green light from Louisiana's Department of Natural Resources and from the 11 parishes that it crosses through.

    That includes St. James Parish, a town 50 miles west of New Orleans that received the nickname “Cancer Alley” due to anecdotal reports describing high rates of cancer among the town’s 22,000 residents.

    Researchers, officials, and industry leaders disagree about whether there is, in fact, a cancer cluster. But there’s no disputing that the town is already home to numerous petrochemical plants and petroleum refineries.

    “Almost all of the industry is in the poorer black neighborhoods,” says City Councilman Clyde Cooper.

    That factor appeared to affect how the pipeline won local approval. In the St. James Parish last year, the City Council members voted along racial lines, with the white council members who were supportive of the pipeline project narrowly defeating the black opponents in a 4-3 vote.

    Nonetheless, locals are still attempting to stop the project. A group of St. James residents, represented by attorneys who work in the environmental clinic in Tulane University’s law school, recently sued the state’s Department of Natural Resources for permitting the project without requiring an evacuation plan in the event of a fire or other catastrophe.

    The residents won a surprise legal victory in May, when a state judge sided in their favor, ruling that the Bayou Bridge pipeline was operating under an illegal permit. But the Department of Natural Resources declined to halt construction, explaining that it doesn’t agree with opponents’ interpretations of the permitting laws.

    Why an evacuation route is necessary

    The town’s poor and industrial neighborhoods are only accessible via a single access road, something that Councilman Clyde Cooper says already puts residents at risk.

    In a recent newspaper editorial, Cooper described how paramedics were unable to take a woman suffering a heart attack to the hospital for nearly an hour because their helicopter landing spot was locked behind private industry property.

    “There is no dedicated evacuation route in the event of an industrial spill, explosion, chemical release, fire or other emergency,” Cooper wrote.

    In an interview, Cooper tells ConsumerAffairs that he and other local lawmakers are trying to obtain commitments from the many companies that do business in the area, including Energy Transfer Partners, to develop an emergency evacuation plan so that residents who depend on the access road to leave town won’t get trapped.

    The oil and gas and petrochemical industries have control “over a lot of jurisdictions,” Cooper says. “Hopefully we can bring that voice down or bring that voice to a compromise.”

    The Bayou Bridge Pipeline website contends that “our construction activities have been and will continue to adhere to the stipulations of our permits.”

    Eminent Domain disputed

    Federal law allows utility companies to build through private property and seize it if necessary via eminent domain, advantages that oil and gas pipeline operators like Energy Transfer Partners have often used in recent years.

    Last month, a Virginia resident sued the Bayou Bridge firms, saying that the companies began construction on his family’s property in Louisiana without bothering to follow through on the eminent domain process.

    The lawsuit claims that after his family rejected Bayou Bridge’s initial financial offer in exchange for a partial easement, workers began clearing trees and digging trenches through the family property without a court order.

    The lawsuit echoes similar concerns voiced by landowners in Texas, who have described feeling steamrolled by construction work that began prematurely in yet another pipeline project financed by Energy Transfer Partners.

    Legal process favors pipeline operators

    Even the agencies that cleared the project have acknowledged that some of the the work is not going completely smoothly.

    In March, the United States Army Corps of Engineers said that they were investigating concerns that Bayou Bridge had violated various conditions of its federal permit regarding construction practices.

    In response, the state of Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources acknowledged three instances in which Bayou Bridge was found to be “out of compliance” during the construction process.

    And earlier this year, a federal judge ordered pipeline construction to be halted, siding with arguments made by environmental NGOs that the Corps of Engineers did not adequately consider the pipeline’s impact on wetlands. But an Appeals court later overturned the ruling.

    Despite the unsettled legal issues, pipeline construction is nearly complete thanks to a regulatory system that allows energy companies to get expedited approval for oil and gas pipelines, an apparatus that was put in place under the Obama administration.

    Foytlin, the organizer, argues that opponents have made strong legal cases in the courts, though the protest camp is not involved with the lawsuits. In the meantime, she says that she is proud of the work that protesters on-the-ground have done.

    “Over the past month we have carried out four lock-down actions that shut down horizontal drill sites for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline,” L'eau est la vie organizers wrote in a post last week.

    Protesters in Louisiana are locking themselves to construction equipment and sitting in trees in a last-ditch effort to stop the construction of a new crud...

    Buffalo Wild Wings may put sports betting on the menu

    The chain says it's currently studying the idea

    Sports bar chain Buffalo Wild Wings says it is exploring the possibility of offering legal sports betting at its restaurants. A patron could order a beer, a plate of nachos, and put $10 on the Patriots to cover the spread.

    A spokesperson for the company told ESPN the May Supreme Court ruling allowing states to legalize betting on sporting events has presented new opportunities to a restaurant where patrons often go to watch games on TV.

    "As the largest sports bar in America, we believe Buffalo Wild Wings is uniquely positioned to leverage sports gaming to enhance the restaurant experience for our guests," the company told ESPN. "We are actively exploring opportunities, including potential partners, as we evaluate the next steps for our brand."

    Supreme Court ruling a game changer

    The 6-3 Supreme Court ruling overturned a 1992 federal law called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). That law blocked states from sponsoring, operating, advertising, promoting, licensing, or authorizing sports gambling.

    The court held that Congress can regulate sports gambling activity if it chooses to, but if it doesn't, then each state is free to act on its own. New Jersey brought the case because the state wants to legalize sports gaming to help revive Atlantic City.

    It isn't clear how many other states will ultimately choose to legalize gambling, meaning Buffalo Wild Wings would only be able to offer gaming at its restaurants in states that allow it.

    According to ESPN, a logical way to deal with that issue would be for the restaurant chain to partner with a national gaming operator.

    Enthusiastic reaction

    Buffalo Wild Wings says it will study the possibility and won't comment further until it has reached some sort of conclusion, but ESPN hosts were ecstatic at the idea.

    "More power to them, jump on the train," said host Mike Golic, as he delivered the news. "You're either jumping on the train, or you're watching the train go by, or you're standing in front of the train."

    Gaming could also help spur sales at Buffalo Wild Wings, whose business has slumped in recent years as younger consumers have been less enthusiastic about the sports bar scene. The restaurant chain was acquired by Roark Capital, parent company of Arby’s, in February.

    According to gaming industry sources, as many as 32 states are considering laws to legalize and regulate sports betting within their borders.

    Sports bar chain Buffalo Wild Wings says it is exploring the possibility of offering legal sports betting at its restaurants. A patron could order a beer,...

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      The Weekly Hack: Golf nonprofit can’t access its own logos until it pays hackers in Bitcoin

      The non-profit that runs the PGA Championship is at the mercy of a cryptocurrency hacker

      Staffers at the nonprofit PGA of America are locked out of their own computer servers and unable to access critical files that they were planning to use for the upcoming Ryder Cup in France, GolfWeek is reporting.

      On Tuesday morning, staffers received a message on their computers and were unable to access their own files. “Your network has been penetrated. All files on each host in the network have been encrypted with a strong algorithm,” the message read.

      The files, which include promotional banners, logos, and signage, will be destroyed if employees attempt to go around the hackers to get them back, the message warned.

      Instead, the hackers have invited employees to use a decryption software that they claim has been made “exclusively” for PGA. That, of course, will cost money.

      The message also includes a Bitcoin wallet number but no specific amount requested. Officials told GolfWeek that they have no intention of paying the ransom. The magazine reports that many of the files were created over a year ago and “cannot be easily replicated.”

      Hacks tied to demands for a ransom paid in cryptocurrency have become increasingly common, affecting random people whose data had been stolen in previous hacks or the city of Atlanta, to name a few instances.

      PGA of America is a nonprofit that is separate entity from PGA tours. In addition to the Ryder Cup, it also operates events that include the PGA Championship.

      Healthcare

      As medical records move online, it’s becoming clear that healthcare workers are in over their heads when it comes to data security. According to industry publications, hospitals and clinics have been suffering a record number of data breaches this year.

      From April to June, the industry reported 142 data breach incidents affecting 3.14 million patient records. The figures are “nearly three times the number reported in the first part of the year,” Health IT News is reporting.

      In July, another 860,000 patient records were compromised, according to an analysis of government data conducted by Healthcare Analytics News.

      The attacks come following a report last year which found that 70 percent of healthcare workers lack cybersecurity awareness.

      WhatsApp

      The messaging app that has taken off with world travelers, people who work in tourism, or others who want a data-free method to contact overseas numbers could get users in major trouble.

      Security researchers say that they have have warned WhatsApp about a flaw they discovered in the site that allows attackers to impersonate users and alter their text messages. The attackers can do so by taking advantage of the “quote” feature used in group chats.

      “We believe these vulnerabilities to be of the utmost importance and require attention,” Checkpoint Research said. WhatsApp has not made clear whether it is working to fix the flaw.

      “We encourage you to think before sharing messages that were forwarded,” the company said in a blogpost. “As a reminder, you can report spam or block a contact in one tap and can always reach out to WhatsApp directly for help.”

      Airplanes

      A security researcher says that he was able to use weaknesses in satellite equipment to hack commercial aircraft. Ruben Santamarta recently told Forbes that he was able to view the workings of hundreds of passenger and commercial aircraft and says he is the first person make the discovery.

      Vulnerable airlines included Southwest, which says it already fixed the issue in December after being notified by a government agency. Other airlines that were named by Santamarta either didn’t respond or claimed that they had also already fixed the issue as well, Forbes reports.

      Staffers at the nonprofit PGA of America are locked out of their own computer servers and unable to access critical files that they were planning to use fo...

      Ryanair cancels 400 flights as pilots strike

      Some of the company’s biggest markets were affected by the cancellations

      In the midst of a pilot strike, Ryanair was forced to cancel nearly 400 flights in some of its biggest markets. The strike is the largest the airline has seen its 34-year history, affecting over 70,000 passengers who had their flights canceled today.

      “The airline says that 250 flights to and from Germany have been cancelled, along with 104 flights serving Belgium, 22 services to and from Sweden, and 20 between Ireland and Britain,” according to The Independent.

      German pilots and crew members are striking for better pay and working conditions. “Ryanair alone is responsible for the escalation that has now occurred. VC regrets the impact on affected passengers, cabin crew, and ground crew,” union representatives of Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) said. However, the company responded to that assertion in a tweet.

      “Despite the regrettable and unjustified strike action taking place in five of our 37 markets, over 2,000 Ryanair flights will operate as normal, carrying almost 400,000 passengers across Europe. We ask the striking unions to continue negotiations instead of calling any more unjustified strikes,” the company said.

      “Ryanair has a long way to go before it can be considered a fair employer,” the International Transport Workers’ Federation, coordinators of the strikes across Europe, shot back. “Calls for industrial action will continue until the company makes good collective bargaining agreements with unions.”  

      Recent issues

      In late 2017, a pilot shortage and the imminence of a holiday strike forced Ryanair to reverse a decades-long policy and finally recognize unions for the first time.

      Despite now recognizing the labor unions, Ryanair still has not signed any labor contracts and “has responded to worker demands with its characteristically pugnacious approach,” according to CNN.

      Because of continued pilot strikes in Dublin, Ryanair announced last month that its Dublin fleet would be smaller by 20 percent come the winter. The company also warned 300 of its employees -- 100 pilots and 200 crew members -- that their jobs aren’t safe, while also posting pilots’ earnings on the company website to show just how much Ryanair pays them.

      According to Kenny Jacobs, the chief marketing officer at Ryanair, the company is “not prepared to concede to unreasonable demands that will compromise either our low fares or our highly efficient model.”

      CNN sees the issues between Ryanair and the unions could be enough to remove CEO Michael O’Leary from his position at the company. O’Leary has been at the helm of Ryanair since 1994 and is under contract until late next year.

      In the midst of a pilot strike, Ryanair was forced to cancel nearly 400 flights in some of its biggest markets. The strike is the largest the airline has s...

      McDonald's new McGold Card contest offers winners free food for life

      The contest is aimed at boosting online sales

      McDonald’s is hosting a new contest that will reward lucky winners with the McGold Card. The card is valued at $52,350 and entitles the winner to two free meals per week for 50 years. The contest starts today (August 10th) and runs through August 24th.

      To enter the contest, consumers must use McDonald’s mobile ordering system. According to the contest website, users place their order on the McDonald’s app, pay using any major credit card, and once the meal has been picked up at McDonald’s, customers are automatically entered into the drawing.

      Those who want to bypass the app can send an email entry to entry@amoeentry.com with the subject as the date the email is sent, and the entrant’s first and last name in the body of the email. The limit is one entry per day -- regardless of method of entry.

      “One potential winner will be selected from among all eligible Entries received for the entire Entry period, in a random prize drawing on or about August 29, 2018, conducted by an independent organization selected by Sponsor. The odds of winning a prize will be determined by the number of eligible Entries received,” the contest’s official rules read.

      The winner not only wins the McGold card but will also receive a custom gold-plated phone case.

      Public response

      Despite the contest’s intention to bring more traffic to McDonald’s mobile app, there are some that think it will end up being nothing more than a failed marketing tactic for the fast food chain.

      “This is going to cost them less than one corporate Christmas party,” said Rob Frankel, a Los Angeles-based branding strategy expert. “I don’t think it’s going to do anything to encourage the app usage. You have a much better chance of winning a state lottery than picking something like this up.”

      Frankel also thinks that choosing only one winner makes McDonald’s look “incredibly cheap and chintzy.”

      Similar deals

      Despite that criticism, McDonald’s appears to be following in the footsteps of similar contests run by both Starbucks and Taco Bell.

      Starbucks recently ran a contest -- Starbucks for Life -- that ended in January. Five winners in the United States won the grand prize, which was worth $56,675 each. The winners were entitled to one free beverage or food item of their choice every day for 30 years.

      Back in 2014, Taco Bell ran the Eleven Everlasting Dollars challenge, which gave customers a 1 in 2.4 billion chance of ever winning. However, 11 winners won the prize that was worth roughly $11,000 each.

      McDonald’s is hosting a new contest that will reward lucky winners with the McGold Card. The card is valued at $52,350 and entitles the winner to two free...

      J.C. Penney to open 500 baby shops in stores

      The retailer will start selling baby items that it previously sold only on its website

      Starting Aug. 30, consumers can stop by J.C. Penney to pick up cribs, high chairs, and other baby products in 500 locations.

      The department store chain is the latest retailer to start stocking baby products in the wake of Babies “R” Us’ demise. It already offered baby supplies online, but it will soon start opening baby shops at its physical locations.

      Walmart and Party City previously announced that they would start selling items to decorate children’s nurseries, toys, gifts for birthday parties, and other items that used to be sold at Babies “R” Us and its sister chain Toys “R” Us.

      Most J.C. Penney locations that are slated to start selling baby items were chosen because they are near a Babies “R” Us location that went out of business in June.

      Improving the in-store experience

      "The baby care business is expected to reach over $13 billion by 2021 and we are seizing this opportunity to pursue available market share and aggressively go after the baby customer with these new shops," James Starke, senior vice president and head of merchandising for J.C. Penney, said in a statement.

      “We’ve strategically chosen these 500 JCPenney locations because the majority of the stores are near a specialty baby retailer that has recently closed its doors,” Starke said.

      At the department store chain’s forthcoming baby shops, shoppers can search for baby products both large and small from brands like Graco, Halo, Avent, and Fisher Price. Some stores will have to ship cribs and mattresses to customers’ homes because certain display items are not in stock, but most products will be available in-store.

      Some furniture items, such as gliders, will continue to be offered online only. The retailer is also increasing its selection of baby clothing that is available to purchase in-store.

      "Our competition is underestimating the importance of a physical in-store baby shop,'' Starke said in the statement. "That is where J.C. Penney is going to differentiate."

      Starting Aug. 30, consumers can stop by J.C. Penney to pick up cribs, high chairs, and other baby products in 500 locations. The department store chain...

      How a great credit score saves you money

      Consumers with the best credit get the best interest rates

      You've probably been told that you need a good credit score to get the best rate on a mortgage. It's true, but a new report from LendingTree underscores that truth in dollars and cents.

      LendingTree is a platform where consumers can shop for loans from different lenders. It keeps track of the loan offers made on its platform, and in particular the interest rates that are offered.

      In July, the average mortgage interest rate offered to consumers in the top 5 percent of credit scores was 4.31 percent, down from 4.34 percent the month before. That’s pretty good in this environment.

      For consumers with excellent credit scores of 760 and above, making up the top 35 percent of credit profiles, the average rate was 4.84 percent -- still pretty good.

      Small difference can add up

      But consumers with credit scores between 680 and 719 were offered loans with an average rate of 5.13 percent. The 29 basis point difference might not sound that significant, but it can make a difference in your monthly payment that really adds up over the life of the loan.

      A consumer obtaining a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage of $150,000 at 4.84 percent would have a principal and interest payment each month of $791 a month.

      The same mortgage at 5.13 percent would cost $817. Again, it doesn't sound like a big difference, but the spread gets larger if you borrow more money.

      According to LendingTree, the difference between the two credit scores totals $15,000 on a 30-year mortgage of $232,000. The difference in monthly payment is $41 for the same house.

      Tangible impact

      "Our report demonstrates how a credit score can impact a borrower in very tangible terms," said Tendayi Kapfidze, LendingTree's chief economist and report author. "As much as people obsess over credit scores, many think of its importance in the binary ‘approve/decline’ paradigm. Few borrowers actually know how their credit score impacts the cost of financial products, and we hope this report increases consumer education."

      There isn't a big secret to improving a credit score. The most effective way to do it is actually the easiest -- simply pay all of your bills on time.

      Some consumers have a low credit score because they don't have access to credit. Applying for a credit card can help, as long as you don't go into debt. Making one or two purchases each billing cycle, then paying the balance in full each month, will help raise your credit score.

      You've probably been told that you need a good credit score to get the best rate on a mortgage. It's true, but a new report from LendingTree underscores th...

      Tesla offering owners free trial of Autopilot feature

      Owners can decide whether to activate some Autopilot features or opt out of the trial entirely

      Tesla has started offering owners who did not purchase Autopilot a free 14-day trial of its semi-autonomous feature, Electrek reports.

      The company said on its website that Autopilot will be automatically downloaded to vehicles that do not have the feature soon after the vehicle receives software update 2018.28.1 or later.

      “In the next 24 hours, your Tesla will receive access to a 14-day Enhanced Autopilot trial at no cost,”  Tesla said in an email letting eligible owners know that they will soon have access to the Autopilot feature.

      “During the trial, you’ll experience our most advanced driver assistance features, including: Autosteer – Assisted steering within your lane Traffic – Aware Cruise Control – Cruise control that matches the speed to traffic – Auto Lane Change – Assisted lane changes while driving on the highway – Summon – Automatically park and retrieve your vehicle – Autopark – Parallel and perpendicular parking, with a single touch.”

      Drivers reminded to keep attention on the road

      Tesla owners will be able to decide whether or not they want to enable some Autopilot features during the trial or opt out altogether.

      “Please only enable these features if you will pay attention to the road, keep your hands on the steering wheel, and be prepared to take over at all times,” the company added.

      The electric automaker’s reminder that owners should keep their hands on the wheel while using the feature follows criticism over how it has promoted the feature. Earlier this year, Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Auto Safety sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to investigate the way the company has marketed the semi-autonomous feature.

      Although Tesla has repeatedly reminded consumers that Autopilot is intended to be used with an attentive driver whose hands are on the steering wheel, several accidents involving the feature have included reports of distracted drivers.

      Tesla has started offering owners who did not purchase Autopilot a free 14-day trial of its semi-autonomous feature, Electrek reports.The company said...

      Gasoline prices remain stable amid surprising drop in demand

      Still, consumers are paying the highest August gas prices in four years

      Gasoline prices were remarkably stable over the last seven days, considering the fluctuations in petroleum supply and demand. Still, motorists are paying the highest August gasoline prices since 2014.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey puts the national average price of regular gas at $2.87 a gallon, just a fraction of a cent lower than this time last week. It's the same price as a month ago, but more than 50 cents higher than at this time last year.

      The average price of premium is $3.40 a gallon, down a penny from last week. The price of diesel fuel is $3.15, the same as last Friday.

      Despite this being the middle of one of the busiest summer vacation months, the government reports consumer demand for gasoline fell in the last week. The latest numbers from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) show gasoline demand went from a near-record high to a decline of more than 530,000 barrels a day. However, the drop is not expected to affect prices at the pump.

      Slight downturn ahead?

      "Despite the week-over-week drop, demand is still strong, which – along with tighter supplies – have helped keep pump prices high this summer," AAA said in a consumer advisory. "Should demand figures trend lower in coming weeks, pump prices could be poised for a slight downturn."

      It also helps that oil prices dropped unexpectedly in the last week on oversupply concerns.

      Despite the stable prices nationally, drivers in some individual states saw some sharp increases during the week. In Michigan, the statewide average is back up to $3.03 a gallon, a gain of eight cents in the last seven days.

      Statewide averages are up seven cents a gallon in Idaho, up six cents in Pennsylvania, and up a nickel in Utah.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      The following states have the most expensive regular fuel prices, according to AAA.

      • Hawaii ($3.77)

      • California ($3.61)

      • Washington ($3.39)

      • Alaska ($3.38)

      • Oregon ($3.27)

      • Nevada ($3.19)

      • Idaho ($3.19)

      • Utah ($3.12)

      • Connecticut ($3.08)

      • Pennsylvania ($3.08)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The following states have the cheapest regular fuel prices on average, AAA found.

      • Alabama ($2.57)

      • Mississippi ($2.57)

      • South Carolina ($2.58)

      • Arkansas ($2.59)

      • Missouri ($2.61)

      • Louisiana ($2.63)

      • Virginia ($2.62)

      • Texas ($2.63)

      • Tennessee ($2.64)

      • Oklahoma ($2.64)

      Gasoline prices were remarkably stable over the last seven days, considering the fluctuations in petroleum supply and demand. Still, motorists are paying t...

      UberAIR has lift-off with help from the University of Texas and US Army

      The company is promising cleaner air and greatly reduced commute times

      Peer-to-peer ridesharing, taxi cab, food delivery, and transportation network company Uber is officially one step closer to being an aeronautics firm, as well.

      The company announced on Thursday that its Uber Elevate division has a deal in place with researchers from the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) and the U.S. Army Research Labs (ARL) to help innovate rotor technology for vehicles as part of the urban aviation ride-share­­ network called uberAIR.

      That’s right -- we’re finally catching up with The Jetsons. Uber’s “flying cars” will consist of vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOL), similar to helicopters and drones.

      Uber has pegged Los Angeles and Dallas as the introductory metropolitan areas for Uber Elevate, and seeking an international city as the third partner. The company’s wish list hopes for actual flying demos by 2020 and making UberAir a commercial reality by 2023.

      The blueprint for the (VTOL) planes is to build a completely electric vehicle with a cruising speed of 150-200 mph, a cruising altitude of 1,000-2,000 feet, and the capacity to accomplish trips of up to 60 miles on a single battery charge.

      Clean machines

      “We’ve realized that to create efficient cities with less congestion and cleaner air, we also need to look to the sky,” said Eric Allison, Uber’s head of Aviation Programs.

      Dallas and Los Angeles certainly give Elevate those challenges. Both endure major traffic congestion, especially during morning and afternoon rush hours, and Elevate suggests it can slice those commute times by as much as 80 percent. As an example, a 25-mile drive from DFW Airport to the suburb of Frisco, Texas, typically takes up to an hour during peak commute times, but in an uberAIR vehicle, the trip could take less than 10 minutes.

      “UT is uniquely positioned to contribute to this new technology, and Uber has recognized that,” said Jayant Sirohi, associate professor in UT’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics and the UT team leader on the project. “In addition to the technical expertise we bring to this area, we also already have a rig to test new rotor configurations right here on campus.”

      What will it look like?

      At Uber’s recent Elevate Summit, the company shared its vision for helping cities become “smarter, better, and more efficient.”

      Part of that showcase included a video that explains how Elevate will look, as well as its role and potential impact.

      Peer-to-peer ridesharing, taxi cab, food delivery, and transportation network company Uber is officially one step closer to being an aeronautics firm, as w...

      Cost of living rose faster than incomes in July

      A government report puts the annual inflation rate at 2.9 percent

      The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.2 percent in July, putting the inflation rate for the last 12 months at 2.9 percent, slightly above the Federal Reserve's target.

      July's increase in the cost of living was led by the cost of putting a roof over your head. The shelter index jumped 0.3 percent last month, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the seasonally adjusted monthly increase in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' all items index.

      Food costs were up by a more modest amount last month while energy prices were sharply lower.

      Consumers' paychecks were mostly the same last month. Real average hourly earnings for all employees were unchanged from June to July on a seasonally adjusted basis.

      Most consumers aren't getting ahead

      Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union, says the inflation and income numbers are a mix of good news and bad news.

      "The CPI numbers reflect a strong economy, and are in line with estimates," Frick told ConsumerAffairs. "Most of the pressure on prices is coming from robust consumer spending fueled by more Americans working, and from continued high consumer confidence. Unfortunately, the rate of inflation at 2.9 percent annually now slightly exceeds average wage gains, so real wages just ticked to negative."

      That means workers' paychecks are not keeping up with inflation and could cause more consumers to fall behind financially.

      "For Americans to benefit more from the expansion, real wage growth needs to be positive as it usually is in this phase of an expansion," Frick said. "Americans are being hit particularly hard in shelter costs, which are up 3.5 percent in the last year.

      Record high home prices

      In fact, even though home sales have slowed in recent months, the rise in home prices hasn't. Earlier this week, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that the median sale price for an existing home in the second quarter hit a record high of $269,000, 5.3 percent more than in the second quarter of 2017.

      "The unaffordable conditions in many of the largest metro areas – especially in the West – continues to be a growing concern for many middle-class households aspiring to buy a home," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist.

      "Homebuilders, facing higher costs and labor shortages, are simply not producing enough affordable homes to satisfy demand. Local governments need to acknowledge this glaring issue and ease some of the zoning laws, permitting processes and regulations that are slowing construction."

      But home prices and rents weren't the only consumer expenses moving higher last month. The government report shows consumers also paid more for new and used cars and trucks, airline fares, household furnishings, and recreation.

      The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.2 percent in July, putting the inflation rate for the last 12 months at 2.9 percent, slightly above the Federal Reser...

      Polaris recalls Gravely utility vehicles

      The utility vehicle’s exhaust header pipe can crack

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 2,100 Gravely Atlas JSV 3000 and 6000 utility vehicles.

      The utility vehicle’s exhaust header pipe can crack, posing fire and burn hazards.

      The firm has received seven reports of cracked header exhaust pipes. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves all model year 2015 through 2018 Gravely Atlas JSV 3000 and 6000 gas-engine-powered utility vehicles.

      The recalled utility vehicles were sold in red and have one or two rows of seats and a rear box. “Gravely” is printed on the rear box, and “Atlas” is printed on the hood of the utility vehicle.

      The model and serial number can be found on the driver’s side and are visible from the front wheel well.

      The following model numbers and serial number ranges are being recalled:

      Year

      Model

      Serial Number Range

      2015

      996200 Base

      150100, 150102 – 150299, 150310, 150321, 150332, 150343, 150354, 150365, 150376, 150387, 150398, 150409 – 150771, 150774 – 150803 and

      150805 – 151173

      996201 Crew

      150100 – 150299, 150310, 150321, 150332, 150343, 150354, 150365, 150376, 150387, 150398, 150409 – 150599 and 150601 – 150641

      2016

      996200 Base

      160100 – 160299, 160310, 160321, 160332, 160343, 160354, 160365, 160376, 160387, 160398 and 160409 – 160640

      996201 Crew

      160100 and 160102 – 160112

      2017

      996200 Base

      170100 – 170256

      996201 Crew

      170100 – 170102 and 170108 – 170152

      2018

      996200 Base

      180101, 180105 – 180116, 180118 – 180136, 180138 – 180149, 180151 – 180154, 180158 – 180161, 180163 – 180166, 180168 – 180170, 180172

      180174 – 180178, 180181 – 180182, 180186 – 180187, 180190, 180192, 180199, 180202, 180205 – 180206, 180209 – 180211, 180214 – 180215, 180218 and 180220 – 180222

      The utility vehicles, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Gravely dealers nationwide from September 2014, through July 2018, for between $13,000 and $15,700.

      What to do

      Consumers should contact an authorized Gravely dealer for a free repair. If the exhaust system becomes noisier, consumers should immediately stop using the recalled utility vehicles. Gravely is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Gravely at (877) 740-7060 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or online at www.gravely.com and click on the Product Support link at the bottom of the page, then select Product Safety Recall in the menu on the left of the page for more information.

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 2,100 Gravely Atlas JSV 3000 and 6000 utility vehicles.The utility vehicle’s exhaust header pip...

      Model year 2018 BMW 540d xDrives recalled

      The vehicle may stall unexpectedly

      BMW of North America is recalling 12 model year 2018 BMW 540d xDrives.

      The crankshaft sensor may be equipped with incorrect firmware, preventing the sensor from properly processing input from the crankshaft reluctor ring, possibly resulting in a vehicle stall.

      A vehicle stall can increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the crankshaft sensor, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin August 27, 2018.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 12 model year 2018 BMW 540d xDrives.The crankshaft sensor may be equipped with incorrect firmware, preventing the sen...

      Randsland recalls Classic Coleslaw and Broccoli Slaw

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Randsland Farms is recalling Randsland brand Classic Coleslaw and Broccoli Slaw.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There have been no reported illnesses associated with consumption of these products.

      The following products, sold in Nova Scotia, Canada, are being recalled: 

      Brand

      Product

      Size

      UPC

      Codes

      Randsland

      Classic Coleslaw

      340 g

      0 57225 00007 0

      080118

      Randsland

      Broccoli Slaw

      340 g

      0 57225 00008 7

      080118

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard them or return them to the store where purchased.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (902) 582.7705.

      Randsland Farms is recalling Randsland brand Classic Coleslaw and Broccoli Slaw.The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.There...

      Tesla founder Elon Musk faces scrutiny over tweets about taking company private

      The SEC sees warning signs and wants Musk to make his intentions fully known

      Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Twitter posts on Wednesday may have raised the SEC’s (Securities & Exchange Commission) eyebrows.

      In a Tweet storm that began at 9:48am with ‘Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured,” Musk continued to let all the cats out of the bag over the next three hours in a total of six tweets that were retweeted some 21,000 times.

      Musk is notorious for waving his toe over the proverbial line. From poo-poo’ing government rules about releasing details of the crash involving a Tesla vehicle to insensitive comments accusing the diver who saved the cave-trapped kids in Thailand of being a pedophile, Musk’s comments can run wild and loose.

      This time is no different, but the SEC takes matters like this seriously. The Wall Street Journal said federal regulators immediately called Musk on the carpet, asking if he was truthful when he tweeted out that he had already locked in the funding for this mammoth of a corporate buyout.

      Musk spells it out

      “...a final decision has not yet been made, but the reason for doing this is all about creating the environment for Tesla to operate best,” Musk followed up his Tweetfest in a memo to employees.

      “As a public company, we are subject to wild swings in our stock price that can be a major distraction for everyone working at Tesla, all of whom are shareholders. Being public also subjects us to the quarterly earnings cycle that puts enormous pressure on Tesla to make decisions that may be right for a given quarter, but not necessarily right for the long-term. Finally, as the most shorted stock in the history of the stock market, being public means that there are large numbers of people who have the incentive to attack the company.”

      It’s clear the Tesla chief thinks that this deal is the right thing to do.

      “I fundamentally believe that we are at our best when everyone is focused on executing, when we can remain focused on our long-term mission, and when there are not perverse incentives for people to try to harm what we’re all trying to achieve,” Musk continued.

      The cornerstones of Musk’s plan are:

      1. A structure where all shareholders have a choice. Either they can stay investors in a private Tesla or they can be bought out at $420 per share, which is a 20% premium over the stock price following the Q2 earnings call (which had already increased by 16%).

      2. All Tesla employees will be able to remain shareholders of the company. If Tesla goes private, employees would be able to sell their shares and exercise their options.

      3. Not merging SpaceX and Tesla. As Musk sees it, those two ventures would continue with separate ownership and governance structures.

      One for all… and all for Musk?

      Musk was quick to point out that this new plan is not about giving himself more control over Tesla. He reiterated that company shareholders would be the final decision makers.

      “I own about 20% of the company now, and I don’t envision that being substantially different after any deal is completed,” the CEO said.

      “This proposal to go private would ultimately be finalized through a vote of our shareholders. If the process ends the way I expect it will, a private Tesla would ultimately be an enormous opportunity for all of us. Either way, the future is very bright and we’ll keep fighting to achieve our mission.”

      The public -- or, at least, those who follow Musk -- apparently agree with the plan. In a Twitter poll put out by the Electrek.Co., more than 85 percent say they’re in favor of Musk’s proposal.

      Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Twitter posts on Wednesday may have raised the SEC’s (Securities & Exchange Commission) eyebrows.In a Tweet storm that began at 9...

      Verizon is giving customers six months of free Apple Music

      The offer is valid for new and existing Verizon Unlimited plan subscribers

      Starting August 16, new and existing Verizon customers can get six months of free access to Apple Music with an unlimited plan. The deal will give customers full, ad-free access to the music streaming service's 45 million songs on any of their devices.

      In a statement, Verizon hinted that more perks will grow out of this partnership by noting that this is “just the first step.”

      "It gives our customers exactly what they want: Apple's best-in-class music streaming experience, paired with an unlimited plan tailored to them, on the network they deserve," said Angie Klein, Verizon's vice president of marketing, in a statement.

      "And now that you can mix and match our unlimited plans, every person in your family can stream worry-free on the unlimited plan they need, without paying for things they don't."

      Competing with rivals

      In June, Verizon introduced a higher tier plan with added high-speed data. Sprint and AT&T both relaunched their data offerings to include more expensive options. As ConsumerAffairs recently reported, T-Mobile took a different route by announcing a cheaper, stripped down unlimited plan that is set to launch on Friday.

      Verizon is joining other carriers that have introduced plans that allow consumers to bundle with music streaming services. Sprint has been giving away free Tidal subscriptions with its Unlimited Plus plan for some time. Prior to its partnership with Tidal, Sprint used to bundle plans with access to Spotify premium.

      Verizon will post more about the registration process for the offer on its website August 16.

      Starting August 16, new and existing Verizon customers can get six months of free access to Apple Music with an unlimited plan. The deal will give customer...

      Your social media posts could torpedo your job application

      A study shows 70 percent of employers look at applicants' accounts

      Since the rise of social media in the last decade, job applicants have been advised to be circumspect in their posts, lest a prospective employer form an unfavorable opinion of them.

      But do employers really look at a job applicant's musings on social media, and if so, how many? Yes they do, and a lot more than you think.

      A new survey by employment site CareerBuilder finds that 70 percent of employers use social networking sites as part of the applicant screening process. Another 7 percent say they plan to make that part of the process.

      That means almost anywhere you apply for a job, they're looking at what you've put on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

      Does it matter? You bet it does. More than half of the employers who were surveyed -- 57 percent -- said they found things online that caused them to reject an otherwise plausible job application. And 22 percent said they specifically scan an applicant's social media sites looking for a reason not to hire them.

      What not to post

      What sorts of things can get you in trouble? Basically, anything that might show you aren't a mature adult with good judgment.

      The employers who found online content which caused them not to hire someone say the troublesome postings included inappropriate photos and videos, postings about getting drunk or using drugs, making racial slurs, and even admitting to criminal acts.

      At the same time, the survey found that most social media posts may actually help your case with an employer. Hiring managers told CareerBuilder they are impressed when a social media poster shows creativity and professionalism and has good communication skills.

      Oh, and a word to the wise. Just because you land the job doesn't mean you can go crazy on Instagram. Forty-eight percent of employers say they monitor social media accounts of current employees, with 10 percent doing it daily.

      One-third of these employers say they have found material online that caused them to reprimand, and even fire, an employee.

      Since the rise of social media in the last decade, job applicants have been advised to be circumspect in their posts, lest a prospective employer form an u...